Music News & Reviews

Critic's picks: Joe Lovano and David Sanborn

Joe Lovano


David Sanborn

Here & Gone

Although separated by only seven years in age, Joe Lovano and David Sanborn are essentially ambassadors of two different saxophone generations.

Lovano is the new traditionalist, a titan who broke through to a solid international audience in the early '90s with a monstrous tenor sound. Sanborn is the architect of an alto honk and whine that became one of the most identifiable sax styles of the '70s and '80s, But he has regularly dodged commercial expectations, especially during the past decade, to issue some of the most richly organic music of his career.

Lovano's new Symphonica is the latest in a string of Blue Note recordings that have purposely sought out new performance strategies. In recent years, Lovano has recorded with all-star duos, trios, quartets, nonets and orchestral settings. The latter is employed again for Symphonica. But instead of the dramatic string settings designed by Gunther Schuller, which were draped artfully over 2006's Streams of Expression album, Symphonica employs two acclaimed German ensembles — the WDR Big Band, which has recorded strong collaborations with Maceo Parker and the late Joe Zawinul, and the Rundfunk Orchestra. Recorded at a single November 2005 performance, Symphonica has less of a noir-type feel than the Schuller collaborations. Instead, the dynamics are heightened all around.

Eternal Joy, with Lovano taking playful turns on soprano sax, emphasizes orchestral colors that bounce about with the flexibility and drama one might expect from a combo. The elegant sway of Charles Mingus' Duke Ellington's Sound of Love, Symphonica's only non-original work, is where the real joy comes in. Wind arrangements nicely frame Lovano's hushed, bluesy tone on tenor while strings envelop the tune with a deeper melodic warmth. Alexander the Great, after some orchestral mischief, settles into a quartet groove that swings like mad. But Mingus' spirit returns on The Dawn of Time. It opens with a percussive carnival strut that is alternately dark and animated before providing studied guitar support under the saxophonist. Lovano then echoes the mood with a tenor stride that typifies Symphonica's elegant and jovial mystique.

Sanborn's view is as American on Here & Gone — especially in its embrace of Southern-style soul — as Lovano's is European on Symphonica. But the music is no less inviting.

The role model might seem to be Ray Charles, as three tunes on Here & Now were pulled from the vocal giant's landmark 1961 album Genius + Soul = Jazz. Eric Clapton and soul veteran Sam Moore add spirited vocal support to two of them — I'm Gonna Move to the Outskirts of Town and I've Got News for You. You soon sense, though, that the reigning influence here isn't Charles but his gifted saxophone accomplice, Hank Crawford.

Sanborn's take on Crawford's 1962 gem Stoney Lonesome says it all: a swinging Gil Goldstein arrangement, an alto lead that glides sleekly over the groove and a crisp Russell Malone guitar break. Aside from an overblown vocal cameo by Josh Stone on the Charles classic I Believe to My Soul, Sanborn has designed a soul album full of homey groove that is far from a retro exercise. Sure, it looks to the past for inspiration. But with an artist as intuitive and respectful as Sanborn at the helm, Here & Gone becomes the soul sound of here and now.